When we first started designing websites in the mid-90s, accessibility wasn’t given much thought. The web, at that time, was less vital for businesses and, besides, there wasn’t as much you could “get wrong” with a site due to the limitations in internet browsers. In other words, you couldn’t do very much neat stuff, but you also couldn’t make something that was too disasterous.
But today, the web and web design have matured a lot. There’s a lot more to think about when designing a site. There are a lot more people who do site design, many without knowing or understanding how to make an effective site that works for your business (no, “cool” is not enough to make a good site). And there are bigger stakes – you, as a small business owner, need to be sure your site is being found and read by potential customers.
Accessibility is important because the potential audience of people who could view your website is much larger than it was even a few years ago. You don’t want to leave anyone out. But there’s a benefit beyond appealing to the small percentage of users with disabilities who may visit your site. You see, by considering what you need to do to make your site accessible, you generally end up improving usability for everyone who visits.
Uses good navigation. A blind person using a reader may be able to find his or her way around your site more easily when the navigation is clear and consistent. So will a sighted person.
Uses good color choices. Make sure text is as legible as possible – usually dark text on a light background. This makes it easy on everyone’s eyes. We recently got some great feedback from a client with a color-blind employee about good color combinations – up to 10 percent of men in the U.S. have some form of this, so it’s an important consideration.
Works on many different types of computers. Someone using a reader will benefit from a simple, well-thought-out design that adheres to web standards, limits technologies like Flash, and clearly identifies what content is most important on your site. Someone using a mobile phone will also have an easier time using your site.
Includes well-written content. Good writing helps make your message understandable to those using readers. It also makes your message clear to everyone else. Text that is optimized for the way people read a screen (as opposed to a printed page) is important, too. Remember to make sure your writing matches the reading level of your target audience. Not everyone is a professional with a master’s degree – keep it simple.
Makes smart use of text identification and captions. An “alt” tag can be used to describe what’s in an image on your website. Your site’s “alt” tags should have clear but concise descriptions, and in addition, you should make sure that your photos and illustrations have informative captions. Multimedia files like audio and video should have good descriptions of what they contain. This will help your standing in search engines as well as appeal to all your visitors.
Thinking about accessibility for all visitors to your website is going to help you make your site better for everyone.